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While most families spend Thanksgiving break catching up and talking politics, Scott and Garrett Reynolds discovered an opportunity to solve a problem in 2015 and co-founded UpCodes.
Scott at that time was an architect at Kohn Pedersen and Fox (KPF) in New York City. He had spent his career designing buildings in London and Hong Kong before joining KPF. His design experience in three major cities all lead to the same realization — codes were frustrating.
“To think of one particular example, I was working at KPF,” Scott says, “and we were designing a building, which was quite complicated in terms of the fire partitions. That was probably the biggest code hurdle for this particular project; especially since the atriums were quite complex. I was frustrated in trying to understand and identify all of the relevant code in this particular section.”
Keeping up with the vast amount of codes was a point of frustration for not only Scott, but he soon came to realize, for many of his colleagues and peers in the construction and engineering field as well.
“I guess the frustration was trying to piece together all these sections, but also in making sure these codes were up-to-date, and that we were following the right codes to the right jurisdiction to avoid any potential problems,” Scott says.
Garrett, on the other hand, was involved with developing code in a different capacity.
“I had the choice between working at SpaceX, PlanGrid and another San Francisco startup. I chose PlanGrid because I like the idea of solving nitty-gritty, real-world problems,” Garrett says. “I'm obviously really excited about humans going to Mars also, but I'm more likely to work on tools to help comply with Martian building codes rather than tools to get to Mars.”
Building codes were not something that Garrett knew a lot about.
“My brother is the architect, I'm just the computer code monkey. He still knows much more than I do,” Garrett says.
Garrett’s lack of knowledge showed during a test on that Thanksgiving break back in 2015. Scott gave Garrett two different codes to find: handrail opening limitations, and codes about travel distances such as the maximum distance any occupant has to travel before they are able to leave a building.
Garrett could not find the answers to either.
“That really blew my mind. He challenged me to find everything I needed to know to design a handrail. You have to find every relevant section in the building code, accessibility code, possibly the ADA, and the residential code. And doing this manually by looking through indexes and tables of contents seemed archaic to me when search engines had progressed so much,” Garrett says. “And on top of that, states make their own amendments that often aren't integrated into the base codes, so you have to go read the governments’ websites separately to see if the sections you found have been amended.”
UpCodes provides specific code amendments for 40 states across the country. By providing these codes, the website gives users a simple way to research specific codes and requirements for projects. The website and mobile application allow users to bookmark and comment on codes they may be frequently using on the jobsite.
Codes are gathered and uploaded to the site by the help of code consultants and external schools. The external schools help the company monitor codes and notifies them when changes have happened.
“We are very intentional with which jurisdictions we cover, and how far we expand, just to make sure we can cover ourselves with the codes that we currently have, in terms of keeping them up to date and pushing out those updates as soon as they happen,” Scott says.
Basic construction code information is free on the website. For a small subscription free, however, users will be able to bookmark sections, search the entire site, collaborate with their team on the project pages, and check out local amendments. Overall, the site looks to simplify the research process by giving real-time updates on building codes.
“I think what’s surprised us most is the amount of codes that go into every project and how different they are based on your jurisdiction,” Scott says. “In fact, The Economist has an article that informs, ‘American counties and municipalities employ up to 93,000 building codes.’ So, it’s an expansive ecosystem of regulations. How do we ingest and how do we take in this much code? And also, how do we keep it up-to-date for engineers?”
The complexity of codes has pushed the company to focus on MEP engineers and architects for the time being. The website provides code information for both architects and engineers in the same way, helping both deal with whichever jurisdiction their project may be in.
One of the features of the UpCodes website is that users can sift through codes that have been integrated with changes made to base codes depending on one’s jurisdiction. So, you get a full understanding of what exactly those requirements are.
“We collect the information from a variety of resources and put it all in one spot,” Garrett says. “It depends on the resource. Sometimes a state will write its amendments very clearly. In other cases, the states' amendments are quite confusing in which case we have a highly trained worker who can parse through the legalese.”
Even with the complex nature and endless amount of codes, the company has continued to grow since its launch, with more than 100,000 active users. Both engineers and contractors are using UpCodes to help with their code questions. The most trafficked jurisdictions on the website have been New York City, New York state and California.
Each one of those 100,000 active users has a voice in the company. Users are encouraged to interact with the company, whether with questions or problems they have with the codes.
“Users are often surprised by our response. It's really different than a large company like Google,” Garrett says. “We respond the same day and we discuss that feedback during our daily meeting with the whole team.”
The open communication has been a key focus for the company’s rise. UpCodes has grown organically, meaning it has not put any money into advertising. Instead, it has relied on word-of-mouth advertising from engineers and architects.
“I think like any small start up, we talk a lot with our users. There’s a lot of back and forth between us and the people on our site,” Scott says. “It’s really nice to hear the time we are able to save professionals in the field and see their excitement when we roll out new features.”
Users are a big part of how the company grows. New locations are based on user demand, where they see more user traffic and where they get requests online from subscribers.
Currently, UpCodes has published codes for New York, California, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Louisiana. Codes for Oregon, South Carolina and Connecticut are currently in the works to be released as well.
The vast world of codes will continue to grow, and the Reynolds brothers will be right there to help keep it simple.